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2005-06, 346, Book Reviews, Colin Steele, Exploration


Encyclopedia of Exploration 1800 to 1850. By Raymond John Howgego. Sydney, Hordern House, 2004. 690pp. ISBN 1 875567 39 9 $AUD 245

Raymond Howgego has been termed “the Michael Palin of academic travel scholarship” in that he combines an enthusiasm for travel with an ability to convey that enthusiasm to a wide audience. Howgego, a remarkable polymath, has not been affiliated with any academic institution nor apparently any academic research granting bodies. Yet he has managed to produce two massive reference volumes, with a third to come, on the history of world exploration, travel and colonization.

The first volume, published in 2003, covering the period up to 1800, was acclaimed by reviewers around the world, including Alberto Manguel who named it as one of his books of the year for The Spectator magazine. The second volume, covering the period 1800 to 1850, is 704 pages long, with 732 articles, containing circa 700,000 words. Howgego’s author and thematic approach is supplemented by comprehensive indexes of over three thousand travellers and one thousand ships.

The period 1800 to 1850 is clearly a much shorter period than that previously covered but is more condensed in the terms of actual travel undertaken and the consequent proliferation of travel literature. This expansion was brought about by educational and financial improvements in society, Western colonial expansion and an ever increasing and demanding reading public. Howgego notes in his Introduction that we even begin to see the embryonic emergence of the professional travel writer.

This second volume largely covers primary sources, but even so Howgego has had to be much more selective, such as by adapting stricter criteria as to the geographical boundaries of the traveller. Thus, Howgego omits any traveller, for example, who travelled no further than the Eastern borders of modern Turkey, Syria or Palestine or who kept to the Western side of the Caspian Sea. Howgego as in the first volume has managed to include a large number of little known travellers including military men, tradesmen, and scientists.

A third volume covering 1850 to 1920 is expected to be published in the relatively near future. As Brian Turner has said in The Australian newspaper, the Encyclopedia of Exploration is a truly global production in that it is written in England, published in Sydney, Australia, typeset in Scotland, printed in China and distributed around the world. No research library worth its name should be without a copy of Howgego’s massive reference work.

Howgego, noted in the first volume that he had introduced one deliberately erroneous article in the text and his publisher, the Hordern House, offered a case of champagne to anyone spotting it. No one by April 2005 had claimed the prize! It is very difficult indeed to challenge a polymath!

Colin Steele



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